Lakers end search, hire Tomjanovich

Saturday, July 10, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- Rudy Tomjanovich and the Los Angeles Lakers have had an adversarial relationship since 1970.

He played against the Lakers; was punched and almost killed by one of them; sued them, and coached against them.

After all that, the parties have joined forces.

Tomjanovich, who guided the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and 1995, has agreed to coach the Lakers -- a move expected since Monday.

"We expect that he'll sign a contract and we'll hold a press conference tomorrow to announce it," Lakers spokesman John Black said Friday.

Tomjanovich succeeds Phil Jackson, who coached the Lakers to three titles in five years. The team announced June 18, three days after losing to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals, that Jackson wouldn't return next season.

The 55-year-old Tomjanovich coached the Rockets for 12 years before stepping down in May 2003 -- two months after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. He negotiated a settlement of the remaining two years and $12 million left on his coaching contract.

Reportedly in good health now, he worked as a scout with the Rockets last season -- his 34th year with the organization he joined in 1970 as the second overall selection in the NBA draft.

Tomjanovich was the winningest coach in Rockets history with a 503-397 record, but they failed to make the playoffs in his last four years there.

He joins an unsettled team -- Kobe Bryant is an unrestricted free agent and Shaquille O'Neal has demanded a trade. Derek Fisher and Karl Malone are also unrestricted free agents.

Tomjanovich, one of the first candidates interviewed, had to wait as the Lakers discussed the job with Miami Heat president Pat Riley, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina coach Roy Williams.

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